Friday, September 19, 2008

The Garden Faerie Meets Paul James

Paul is on the left. I'm the grinning pale blob to the right!

I am not a fan. I don't follow sports teams. I don't have a favorite actor, musician, or celebrity. There are many people I admire or respect, but I am definitely not crazy wild to meet them.

And then there's Paul James, host of HGTV's Gardening by the Yard. Here's a guy making his living doing what I do as an amateur. Here's a guy who clearly loves plants and is knowledgeable, funny, down to earth, and a bit irreverent. And occasionally downright goofy. What's not to like? I admit that the more I learned about him through watching his show over the years, the more I thought he seems like a decent human being, not just a cool TV host.

So when I discovered he would be making an appearance at Goldner Walsh nursery in my metro area, I figured, why not go? As the time to leave drew nearer, I admit I was getting a bit giddy (or as my friend Pete calls it "squeeing fan girlish"). I wondered whether he would be like he seems on TV. I was hoping to say a few words to him and, best case scenario, press Fun with Winter Seed Sowing into his hands if it seemed in any way appropriate. I really wanted to stay this side of respectful admirer without crossing into crazed fan who pounces on him like an exuberant puppy whose owner just came home. You know.

The drive took just over an hour in much heavier traffic than my brain or eyeballs are used to, and I arrived a little early. I was perusing the greenhouses when I saw someone I thought I knew in the next aisle, only to slowly realize it was in fact Paul James! I ducked behind a plant because, well, um, I just did, OK?

Just as I settled my nerves, I saw someone in the aisle in another direction who said "I know you!" I turned around to see if Paul was behind me, but he wasn't. It turns out the woman, Diane, was in fact addressing me. She had attended my session this past Saturday at the Wayne County Master Gardener Conference and had also purchased my book! We chatted.

On my way to the main event, I saw Paul standing in a hallway. I did not hide this time but kept walking. As I got near him he said to no one in particular "I lost my guide." Without missing a beat, I said "You must be your own guide." Partially because I've been reading a lot of inspiring Dove Promises messages* lately, and partially because, well, who the heck knows. I like to think he found this insightful and inspirational (HA!), and I felt a bit calmed that I responded to him as I would have to anyone else in that situation. Sure, I may have sounded like an idiot, but this was me being myself, not me jumbling my words as a squeeing fan girl. Victory!

I found my way to the main room where the presentation would be and chatted with a few other people. I also entered my name for a door prize, which is pretty much an exercise in practicing cursive since I never win door prizes. Ask anyone I attend conferences with! Seriously.

So, Tim Travis, the owner of Goldner Walsh spoke, as did a local organic farmer, as did the chef who created yummy treats from said farmer's produce, and then Paul James answered questions. He was just like on TV: funny, down to earth, and full of practical knowledge. He said HGTV had not renewed his contract as they felt he was too old and gardeners were too old and they're really wanting to cater to an under-35 demographic. (I have a whole rant about this but I'll save that for another day.) Someone asked if he was going to write a book. He said he had many publishers asking him but he was afraid anything he'd write would piss some people off. Plus he said he thought most gardening books were beautiful and slick, but contained very little hands-on or new information. This made me beam to myself as, in my very tote bag, was my book which a) is not at all slick; in fact, obviously self published and put together by hand (with a GBC-bound spine), which I admit sometimes makes me feel like a "fake" author and b) actually contains hands-on practical information! Hence, a segue to use to feel less awkward pushing it on him. Hooray!

Then they did the drawings: two prizes of a cookbook and a pot of various perennials. Tim told the first winner that one of Paul's recipes was in the book and she should see him afterward to have him sign the cookbook. Then they called the second winner, one Monica Milla of Ann Arbor. I was just about to curse this lucky winner when it dawned on me--um, wait what? Did he say Monica Milla of Ann Arbor? Hey, I know her! Hey, that's me! And Tim recognized my name as we'd been emailing about an article I'm planning for my MLive blog about his nursery's new plant pot recycling program, which he announced to the crowd!

Not only was it cool to actually win something, but I now had a shy person's excuse to ask for his autograph as well as the aforementioned book segue. For once in my life, it seemed like the universe was aligned with me, not against me (which it often seems like at my day job).

After the talk, many people crowded around Paul while I chatted to Tim briefly, getting a few more details for my blog entry. I then walked around the nursery a bit. When I returned to the room, Tim was taking a photo of a couple with Paul, and they were the only people left in the room. I had taken my camera though I hadn't expected any opportunity to use it to arise, but I rode the momentum and asked Tim if he'd take a photo of Paul and me. Paul motioned me to stand on his non-injured arm side, which I would have done anyway, and then he put his arm around my shoulder. For a split second this freaked me out; not only because I have a fairly strong personal space bubble unless I know someone quite well, but also because I was overly conscious of not crowding him and trying to give him his space. But, hey, I'm nothing if not adaptable, so I put my arm around his shoulder as well. Purely to be polite, you understand. I mean, I'd hate to appear rude! (Quiet, you in the back!) Of course, this made me feel a little giddy again, hence the huge smile on my face in the photo!

I then had him sign the cookbook and I said I knew just what he meant about glossy impressive books that may lack in hands-on tips, so I hope he'd enjoy this book which was the opposite. He said "Ah, winter seed sowing" and asked if I was Monica, the author. I said I was. I said something else about liking his style and using humor in my own presentations and then it dawned on me there was no one else left in the room and he probably wanted to move it along to the food section, so I bid him farewell, a happy flight home, and a quick recovery from his arm injury.

At least that's how I think our exchange went. Even though a strange calm came over me when we were talking (similar to what happens when I speak in public), afterward I was admittedly a little star-struck (in fact I did actually squee at the photo preview later alone in the hall), while trying to act like it was the most natural thing in the world for me, the small potato garden faerie, to chat with Paul James, the Gardener Guy. So, in retrospect, it was all a bit of a blur.

I look forward to finding out what endeavors Paul undertakes in the future, especially at a time where I'm on the brink of some unknown future undertakings as well.

*Dove Promises are yummy chocolate pieces that come in wrappers with printed messages. My favorites are "Be your own Valentine," "Keep the promises you make to yourself," "Test your own limits and keep going," and "Go to your special place."


  1. How exciting to meet a celebrity, and one that you have much in common with.

    I agree about this demographics thing. I really makes me angry when I stop and think about it.

  2. What a thrill! i have always thought of him just as you said. Funny, knowledgeable, down to earth and a littke kooky. But someone you could really connect with about gardening. I am so glad you got to share your book with him-I'm sure he will love it. How awful of HGTV. Just who do they think has the most disposable income, especially in these times? I assure you it's not the under 35's who are struggling to make house and car payments and out kids through school. Dumb, Dumb, Dumber on their part!

  3. Hi Monica, oh my gosh, how exciting to meet Paul James! I rarely watch HGTV anymore due to the lack of G in the programming. My husband would be bored to tears by my Saturday and Sunday G program-watching, with the exception of Gardening by the Yard. It was the one garden show he actually enjoyed watching with me. What a shame it's been cancelled.

    Congratulations on winning one of the door prizes! I'm curious what perennials were in that container!

  4. Marnie, The event was also a fund raiser for adrenal cancer research, which meant seating was limited to about 100. Glancing around the room, I'd say ~85% of the audience was over 55, 14% was over 40, and the remaining 1% was under 40. Doesn't HGTV understand demographics and target audiences?

    Beckie, Paul did mention the very thing about older folks, in general, having more disposable income and more time. It's one thing to have a show or two catered toward people who view plants as an accessory, not gardening as a process; fine. Things change, networks have to keep up, blah blah. But that does not mean they should dump the one real gardening show they have!! You can kind of tell they had him moving in that direction as the latest season was Paul helping younger non-gardening folks "make over" a part of their yard, as opposed to having other experts (also older) share their specialty topic.

    Linda, yes, it was exciting (did that come across in my entry?!). I agree that HGTV has very little G. Of course, I'm personally so cheap I don't get HGTV; I have only the most basic cable (though that has increased from under $10/month to almost $20 a month in the last 8 years as well!), so basic they (Comcast) won't admit to even offering it unless you insist! I got it basically just to have reception for local stations, which includes the Canadian channel CBC where I get Coronation Street, my embarrassing British soap addiction. So my dear friend Carole, who gets cable as part of her condo fees, dutifully records GBY for me. I will miss it. The pot of perennials includes ornamental oregano 'Herrenhausen,' Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip," and a pale purple double-flower fall anemone (no plant tag). The first two will be divided into two plants each, and each will go in one of my two "wild beds" where there is room to spread and part-shade to limit the spreading. The orn. oregano does quite well in limited sun; it still blooms but doesn't spread much. Anemone is one of my fav flowers, but I'm not wild about doubles. It will go, um, I'm not sure yet. I have a TON of transplanting, dividing, and moving to do this fall, and I suck at chess (figuring out several moves ahead).

  5. Congratulations to your win!
    I am under 35, and frankly, I don't need a trendy young host to get me interested in a TV show. Maybe I am just weird;)
    Lg, Bek

  6. Bek, I'm nearly 43, but I started gardening in my mid 20s; I agree that I wouldn't have needed a "young" host; I care more about content and enthusiasm. Age is something I never really judge people by. I get along great with my niece who's 23 and one of my best friends is 67. Age is only an issue within myself in that I marvel sometimes how quickly it passes.

  7. Hi Monica, I was squeeing along with you, is that the same as squealing? I love Paul James too and he lives in my home town of Tulsa, OK, that just adds to it. Your narrative of this day was excellent in every way, the writing and excitement building to the climactic moment of the photo op and pressing of the flesh, so to speak. I was there with you all the way, and apparently so were the fates, for you were one lucky lady. I am sorry to hear that stupid HGTV has not renewed his contract, but will not delete the 35 shows of his I have recorded on the DVR!
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  8. Hi Frances, Thanks for your compliment on the write-up. Yes, I think "squeeing" is the hip-now-today wired equivalent of "squealing" with some random fan "ooh"ing and "aah"ing thrown in! Apparently it's a hip phrase on LiveJournal (I kind of like that blogger isn't so hip).
    ~ Monica

  9. Ahh this was a hillarious account of an exciting day for you! Always awkward but exciting meeting a celebrity I think! I am still on a sugar high from eating so many chocolates on a recent trip to Belgium so those Dove bars interest me!A chocoholic can never eat too much chocolate! wink

  10. Hallo Monica, vielen Dank für Deinen Besuch auf meinem blog. Ich bin durch Zufall auch schon vor ein paar Tagen einmal bei Dir gewesen und hatte vor, auch wieder zu kommen.
    Du schreibst ja hervorragendes Deutsch, aber ich glaube, Ann Arbor ist auch einen deutsche "Hochburg" oder? Wir hatten einmal für ein paar Wochen einen Praktikanten aus Ann Arbor im Büro (als ich in Dein Profil schaute, kam mir der Ortsname gleich bekannt vor....), es war der Sohn der Besitzer eines der deutschen Restaurants in Eurer Stadt. Die Welt ist doch ein Dorf.:)
    Ich finde Deinen blog und auch die homepage sehr interessant und werde bestimmt öfters vorbei schauen.
    Liebe Grüße aus "good old Germany", Monika

  11. Naturegirl, I love Dove Promises (in dark chocolate) because they're small individual pieces, not a whole bar which, of course, HAS to be eaten all at once. I can actually pace myself with 2-4 pieces at a time. I also throw these chocolates into the audience when I speak rewarding people who answer things correctly (I'm kind of an interactive speaker).

    Stadtgarten, hallo und willkommen. Ich weiss zwar nicht was eine Hochburg ist (nur dass Ann Arbor sehf flach ist!) aber das macht nichts!

    ~ Monica

  12. I actually understood some of Monika's comment. How cool! I remember you do speak Deutsch. I miss Andrea's blog as she has not been posting much. Just wanted to say how LUCKY you are to meet one of my garden heroes. Even hubby likes Paul James and we all get a smile when watching him. What the h%$# is wrong with HGTV? A demographic of under 35? Most of these guys don't have any money, it is the baby boomers who are spending on gardens and home improvement. Duh! I will miss him and so great you have a photo forever-and a blog to display it on!

  13. No, you're the lovely woman with the gorgeous titian red hair and the big, happy smile.

    I think it's great that you were in the same pic with this garden celeb but did you really have to break his arm for it? LOL Joking aside, it must have been a ball meeting him in person. It sounds to me that we gardeners need more people like him on tv not less.

    Loved reading about your wonderful adventure, it was great fun as you write so well.

  14. Tina, I was born in Germany but my parents came to the U.S. before I started kindergarten. Of course I only answered in English as they spoke German to me, but now I'm glad I can speak the language.

    Yolanda, why [blush] thanks for the compliments! And LOL because I took special care with my care that day, using both leave-in conditioner and a bit of gel! I love the word "titian,." having first discovered it in old Nancy Drew books (Nancy was "titian haired" in the original books and later changed to blonde. In fact, the books were updated over the years to keep them "fresh" for new generations, but I prefer reading the older ones which mention jalopies and whatnot!.) The funny thing is, I dye my hair to cover weird gray (I like gray, it's just coming in weird splotches). The color I use best matches my natural color, but the color is "light golden brown." After about a week or so, it turns reddish, which is how my hair is naturally. Only I never think of myself as a redhead or titian, so I'm tickled whenever anyone else notices. Um, because I'm quirky!

  15. Monica, I tried to leave a comment on your live blog, but it wouldn't let me, so I hope you see this.
    How exciting to meet Paul James! It must have been after you posted this that several other bloggers commented about HGTV no longer deserving the "G" in their name. I used to watch this channel quite often, but now I never do! So they think we're too old, do they?!

    By the way, the photos of your frosted flowers were beautiful.

    I'll try to figure out why I can't leave a comment on that blog later.

  16. I just stumbled upon your blog, and have enjoyed very much reading about your meeting with Paul James. How cool! I always liked his show--his brand of humor, etc,etc,etc. I am so disappointed that HGTV has canceled him--guess they might as well take the G out of their name! But then, I am in the "over 35" demographics, so guess I don't count anymore.

    Ah, Dove Promises...I have a very personal relationship with them, telling myself that because they are dark chocolate they are actually medicinal--I know they are addictive!

  17. Hi Monica, how exciting to meet the garden guru himself. I enjoy his show for the information and the humor. :)

  18. I love this story, Monica, and congratulations! I can't believe I missed this event ~ I might have met you! Spend many hours at Goldner Walsh (both for myself and our Garden Club) and have worked with Tim & Jim S. for over 30 years when Goldner was still on Telegraph Road. All my stunning dayliles are from Al Goldner's gardens. (I also love Dove chocolates but I can't imagine who doesn't!)

  19. Rose, not sure what the deal is with commenting over at Full Bloom, but I replied in your own comments. K? K!

    MGRR, Yes, both Paul James and chocolate are very good--in somewhat different ways!

    Perry (do you like my nickname for you?), yes, he's definitely a cool guy!

    Joey, That's actually the first time I'd been at Goldner Walsh, mostly because it's not in my neck of the woods and partly because I don't frequent nurseries as much as I'd like (I can't always afford what I'd like and I believe stores from on stealing-LOL!). If I'm ever up near your way, I'll let you know and maybe we can meet up. I was at Cranbrook House and Gardensback in Sept.--that's near you, right? Believe it or not, I have one friend who doesn't care for chocolate and one who could take it or leave it (?!?!?!). My theory is that they're mutant aliens! ;-)

  20. Monica ~ just caught your reply and yes, indeed, I'm a mile and a half away from Cranbrook ~ aren't the grounds lovely? They have wonderful plant sales (rescued wildflowers) in spring. Do contact me if ever back in this neck of the woods!

  21. I am a fan of Paul James TOO ! and I recognized him in the picture right away .. no wonder you were excited .. I would be bouncing around with a very red face trying to keep calm .. that is great you got to meet him ...
    Demographics .. blow those babies to the wind .. the market is us "baby boomers" .. we love to garden and we are the majority so that was a lot of 'compost" ? LOL

  22. Hey! I think Paul rocks! It's nice to meet you, what a wonderful bloogie home you have! I look forward to reading more.

    Have a Wonderful Wednesday!
    Kathi :)

    Thank you for dropping by and your wonderful comments! :)

  23. Sound like you had a dream day - it couldn't have gone much better if you'd dreamt it. It's great when meeting our garden heroes turns out well isn't it?

  24. You are one lucky girl to meet Paul James. His show is one of my favorites.

  25. I am so amazed! I so admire Paul James. Wish I could get up early enough to watch his show more often! (Or I wish they'd put it back in mid-morning time!) Congratulations! :-)

  26. What- a- positively delightful post. You really are very funny and I am SO jealous you got to meet Paul James. I'm sorry to hear about his show. Reading thru your responses you are right, there are no more real gardening shows. It's more like HTV rather than HGTV.-Randy

  27. GardenJoy4Me,
    LOL, yes, i was trying to play it cool but don't think I entirely succeeded.

    I need to stop back by your blog!

    It was a day just like in a fairy tale. Which I'm almost entirely unfamiliar with! ;-)

    I still smile thinking about it, even three months later!

    I record the show and watch it later.

    You clearly have an excellent sense of humor and a finely tuned wit to recognize how funny I truly am !! ;-) Thanks for stopping by.

    ~ Monica

  28. To all readers of this blog, I bring you GOOD news. Paul James “The Garden Guy” is coming to a computer near you. That’s correct, Paul’s new website and Blog are coming. I have read all the post wanting to know if Paul reads these blogs and the answer is yes, and within the next month we will have his new site up and running.

    Also News about Paul: We just signed a deal that makes Paul James “The Gardener Guy” the new spokesperson for National Public Gardens Day 2009. See link below to read the press release.

    Also look for Paul on May 7 as he will be doing morning news reports across the country about National Public Gardens Day.

    We want to hear from YOU the fans. Let us know what you want to see from Paul and the website. Please send us your thoughts. Just reply on this blog and we will read your commits. We will use your thoughts and commits to bring you more of Paul James “The Gardener Guy.”


  29. Paul James is my hero as well. I have watched his show since I was 18 and I am now 35 so I don't understand HGTV's reasoning. You could imagine my delight when I found out he lived in Tulsa because that's where I live. I watched his show for a while without knowing that until I heard him mention it one day. I have been patiently waiting for spring to watch his shows again. That's actually how I stumbled on to this site. I'm am really disappointed about the cancellation. My ex would watch his show and chuckle as does my boyfriend now. I decided to major in horticulture because of him. I love the education he puts into his shows without ever being boring. Well, good thing is, technology is advanced. I say he should just start his own website and publish his own shows. Sponsors will probably flock to it. Here's hoping!

    I LOVE Dove promises also! I will eat them until I get sick and my favorite is "go to your special place!"

  30. Hey everyone. Check out Paul's new website.

    It's great stuff......